Guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe leaned forward, raising a clenched-fist salute to the throngs of black people cheering his return to this British colony, once ruled exclusively by whites.
But, in a figurative sense, he also bent over backward -- to reassure the stay-at-home white minority that they, too, would have a place in a future black-ruled Zimbabwe.
"We haven't come to throw them [the whites] out," he said shortly after arriving at Salisbury airport Jan. 27, ending five years in exile as co-leader of the Patriotic Front guerrilla organization. "The last thing we want to see is creation of refugee camps across the Limpopo [river] in South Africa."
Such a massive white exodus to that white-ruled country would mean "the failure of our struggle," said the bespectacled, gray-suited guerrilla leader.
That struggle saw Mr. Mugabe rise to the head of a nationalist guerrilla army numbering more than 17,000 and to lead a political party -- the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) -- that is among the front-runners seeking to gain control of this country in next month's elections.
At a campaign rally shortly after his arrival, one banner touted Mr. Mugabe as "the first prime minister of Zimbabwe." He already seems to have scored something of a victory in the crowd-pulling contest here. The size of the crowd at Zimbabwe Grounds sports field appeared somewhat large than at other rallies in recent weeks held at the same venue by rival parties.
Mr. Mugabe's shouted "Pamberi ne chimurenga" (Shona words for "forward with the war") drew a tumultuous response from the crowd.
However, at an airport press conference shortly after his touchdown, Mr. Mugabe went out of his way to stress racial reconciliation in this war-ravaged country.
While vowing to end a society composed of "equals and unequals . . . whites and blacks," he said majority rule would not mean "creating of the majority an oppressive race."
At times, Mr. Mugabe's moderate stance even placed him at variance with his own party platform. Speaking in clipped, precise language, he:
* Committed himself to winning control of this country through democratic elections, not violence. He pledged adherence to the London Lancaster House agreement, which provides for a cease-fire in the seven-year-old bush war here and peaceful transition to majority rule.
* Reaffirmed his commitment to socialism but said that the reality that "our economy is at the present moment a capitalist one" called for an evolutionary approach to change.
* Promised to set up collective farms and bolster peasant agriculture but said land redistribution would be carried out "only through purchase," not confiscation, of productive white-owned farms.
* Played down any notion of quick nationalization of key industries. A ZANU government would, however, closely scrutinize corporate profits and explore ways to increase worker control over industries, he said.
* Stated that despite Eastern bloc and Chinese backing for his nationalist guerrillas, an independent Zimbabwe would follow a foreign policy of nonalignment. "We haven't fought the struggle only to surrender it to one bloc, " said Mr. Mugabe.
* Voiced disapproval of apartheid (racial segregation) in neighboring South Africa but said his government would pursue a policy of "coexistence" with the white-ruled country.
That contrasts with a ZANU platform plan calling for the "complete liquidation of settlerism [and] colonialism . . . in Africa" and pledging ZANU to "cooperate fully with all nationalist movements in Africa."
Indeed, some of Mr. Mugabe's followers seemed unprepared for his message of moderation and reconciliation. Even as he mounted arrived at Zimbabwe Grounds, a tall black youth urged, "On with the war. We are ready to carry on the struggle."